June 2022

Se suele decir que el mal triunfa no por las personas que lo hacen, sino por la inactividad de las buenas personas. Es decir, por la falta de denuncia y de un posicionamiento claro. En este caso, la deshonestidad académica se instaura en una institución por la falta de denuncia y de una postura congruente de las personas honestas e íntegras. Pero esa falta de denuncia, muchas veces y casi me atrevería a afirmar que siempre, está ligada a una cultura de integridad y de denuncia de las injusticias. Una cultura de impunidad que incluso podemos ver socialmente y de la que todos en una u otra medida tenemos responsabilidad.

Por tanto, ¿cómo podemos impulsar un cambio cultural hacia una cultura de integridad? Para eso, hay que hacer un trabajo mucho más profundo que simplemente evitar plagios o controlar exámenes. Se trata de educar en valores. Mientras sigamos dando por bueno frases como “quién no transa, no avanza” o vivíamos bajo la ley del mínimo esfuerzo, dónde lo que importa es el resultado final, sin importar los medios para conseguirlo, no vamos a poder cambiar dicha cultura. Las universidades tenemos que convertirnos en ejemplos de la vivencia de valores vinculados a la integridad, como son, la honestidad, la confianza, la responsabilidad, el esfuerzo, el respeto o la lucha por las injusticias. Para ello, se deben de generar políticas institucionales alienados con mecanismos de denuncia y de sanción equitativos, justos y transparentes. A la par de inculcar esos valores a los docentes para que desde su actuar diario se socialicen dichos valores en las formas de impartir clase, en los contenidos seleccionados, en la resolución de conflictos, etc. Y finalmente recuperar el sentido de formación y aprendizaje universitario, que valora más el diálogo, la crítica, la reflexión y el aprendizaje, más que un resultado puntual.

Disclaimer: the author is not a physician nor a psychologist, and this post is satire masquerading as advice. Advice not guaranteed to work for everyone. The prescriptions offered in this post have not been evaluated by anyone with the credentials to prescribe such cures. 

Have you felt like you want to throw your printer against the wall because it keeps jamming? Or invading another’s territory because you believe like they’re doing it wrong? Do you find yourself binge watching netflix all day, feeling guilty about it but being unable to motivate yourself to do more? Are you painfully aware that you’re preaching one edict but practicing another?

You may be facing a condition known as Integrity Depletion Syndrome or IDS. IDS is defined by a doctor (okay, well, a Ph.D.; okay, well, me) as “having a lack of coherency between the different parts of yourself”. The symptoms vary by individual but can include listlessness, frustration, boredom, disquietness, weight gain (or loss), lack of energy, and a WTF moment upon reflecting back on your own choices and actions .

Integrity Depletion Syndrome is a serious condition affecting individuals, organizations, and society, and has many causes, but also, thankfully, cures.

Cause #1

Perhaps the most common cause is the repeated telling of lies to others like “oh no, your dog barking all day doesn’t bother me while I’m working from home”. Or, telling lies to the public such as “we’re not a cheating company, we’re an ed tech company”. Or, telling lies to yourself like “my weight gain isn’t from poor eating habits, drinking too much or not exercising, it’s just because I’m aging and so there’s nothing I can do about it”. These lies, scientifically known as rationalizations or justifications, enable us (at least in the short term) to live somewhat peacefully with our choices and decisions even though we are not living truthfully. Living in a prolonged state of such dishonesty, however, does eventually lead to IDS, which can deteriorate not just the self, but relationships and institutions.

Prescription #1 

Stop lying. Just Stop it. Face and tell the truth to yourself and others, no matter how difficult.

Cause #2

Another common cause of Integrity Depletion Syndrome is an obsession with performing rather than learning. The performative life approach means that you focus almost exclusively on tasks, mindlessly moving from one to another, treating yourself like a factory production line that has widgets to make. The most seriously afflicted spend more time making check-lists and checking things off the list, than they actually spend time on higher order activities. This mindless check-list mentality makes you temporarily feel good, until you realize that you are slowly transforming into one of those AI-bots that churns out assignments for students who don’t want to learn. To be sure, tasks need to be done, but a focus on performing your life rather than mastering your life can lead to boredom, binge watching netflix, vicariously living your life through others’ social media posts, and, yes, a severe case of IDS.

Prescription #2

Stop performing and start learning. Push yourself and get uncomfortable.

Cause #3

The third most potent cause of Integrity Depletion Syndrome is an unhealthy lifestyle. According to the renowned international health expert, Apple Watch, sleeping too little, eating too much, drinking too much, and not moving enough throughout the day are bad for you. To be fair, the Apple Watch might be onto something. Apparently there is some scientific evidence that your mind is connected to your body. What? I know, right! I think it’s got something to do with, like, blood, oxygen, and other hocus pocus words like “neuropathways”. Basically, if your body isn’t as healthy as it could be, then your mind is also not as healthy as it could be. And when our brains aren’t firing on all cylinders, it seems to be pretty tough to slowly and carefully thinking through how to unjam that printer, let alone to focus on higher order human needs like integrity, wholeness, and purpose. 

Prescription #3

Practice mindfulness and experiment with the right eating and exercise routines that will help you find the healthy balance that works best for your body and brain. 

So, there you go. You are now more aware of this common and dreadful disease known as Integrity Depletion Syndrome. While it is dreadful, there is hope. If you are currently experiencing any of the symptoms of IDS, I urge you to act immediately by taking my prescriptions now before your syndrome worsens. You will feel more integrous before you know it!

Disclaimer: Results are individual and cannot be guaranteed. Side effects are unknown but could include happiness, tranquility, promotions, self-love, and self-fulfillment.

Written by Cath Ellis, Professor, Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture, The University of New South Wales

Recently I was honoured to speak at the academic integrity awards ceremony held (virtually) at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). I’d been asked to speak specifically about the Courageous Conversations program here at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia. Before me, UCSD’s Executive Vice-Chancellor Professor Elizabeth H. Simmons remarked that Academic Integrity is the ‘glue’ that binds educational institutions together. This was a reminder that all educational institutions are, at their core, academic communities.  

All communities bring people together who agree to ‘stick’ together because they all share a sense of purpose and a set of values. All communities share something in common: if a member does not uphold the communities’ values, then their right to remain a part of it can and should be questioned. This is because the very existence of a community is threatened if the bonds of its ‘glue’ weaken and, worse still, break.  

The purpose of our academic community is to acquire and advance knowledge and all members – whether they be a student or a member of staff – are expected to pursue that purpose while upholding the values of academic integrity. When a member fails to enact or uphold its shared values, the community can respond in various ways. Obviously different behaviours are considered differently problematic which almost always corresponds to a scale of what the AMBeR project calls ‘penalties’ that they describe as ranging from ‘mild’ through ‘moderate’ to ‘severe’. When they surveyed responses to academic misconduct across educational institutions in the UK, the response that was by far the most common (found in 98.7% of institutions) was also the most severe: expulsion (p.8). This allows the academic community to say: ‘your behaviour means we no longer want you as a part of our community’.   

Typically, and historically, the behaviour that has come to be known as ‘contract cheating’ is at the severe – and in many cases the most severe – end of that spectrum. Contract cheating occurs when a student outsources their academic work to another person. At many educational institutions, it warrants expulsion. 

I share the view that an academic community we should not tolerate contract cheating. The reasons for this are based on intent: it’s patently implausible that a student could accidentally get someone else to do their academic work for them, particularly a commercial provider. But do I think it necessarily warrants exclusion? Well, no; I don’t. Let me explain why.  

Yes: this kind of behaviour should be taken seriously, but it should also, I argue, be understood as a mistake. Of course it’s a serious mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. And educational institutions are in the very business of helping students learn from their mistakes. If a student is given an opportunity to see and acknowledge that their behaviour is wrong, that it has not displayed the values that ‘glue’ our academic community together, and that they have made a mistake, then we should be prepared to help them fix it.  

That’s where the Courageous Conversations program steps in. It has its roots firmly planted in the soil of restorative justice that, as John Braithwaite puts it, works from the principle that “because crime hurts, justice should heal.” UNSW’s program allows students who have engaged in even the most severe academic misconduct behaviours to admit to and take responsibility for them, to convey their remorse, accept the consequences of their actions (which should always include not receiving credit for any academic work that they didn’t do themselves), to make amends by addressing the reasons that motivated their behaviour in the first place and to accept and engage with the supports and resources available to do this. Last but not least, it requires them to promise to never engage in any kind of cheating behaviour again. And UNSW holds them to that promise. In return, the institution can take the harshest penalty – expulsion – off the table, thereby allowing the student to remain a part of the community. 

All Courageous Conversations take place before a formal investigation begins. If the student is able to alleviate the institution’s concerns, by providing a clear and plausible explanation, then nothing more needs to be happen, avoiding the stress and expense of a formal investigation. In fact, students who have had this experience have appreciated the straightforward opportunity to clear their name and the careful and transparent way in which their matter was handled. If the institution’s concerns have not been addressed and the student chooses not to take the courageous steps, the formal process will still proceed.  

Being prepared to admit to mistakes, even as serious as contract cheating, takes courage; which is why we call them Courageous Conversations. As one of the core values of Academic Integrity, courage is an essential ingredient in our ‘glue’. It allows our community to let go of the idea that students who contract cheat are incorrigible and to instead take a forgiving stance. As Braithwaite puts it, offering a “second chance, can bring out the best in the worst of us” and ultimately rewards everyone to “put their best self forward” (p. 33). Courageous Conversations are, in that sense, part of the very ‘glue’ itself. 

Acknowledgments: The initial idea for Courageous Conversations came from a former colleague David House. He and another former colleague Kane Murdoch put them into practice under the leadership of Bron Green. They are now overseen by the Student Conduct and Integrity team within the Conduct and Integrity Office at UNSW.